All the buzz: How bees are helping solve murders

George Mason University students learn at the newest body farm. It's one of only eight in the country. (Copyright 2023 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

It’s all the buzz in the crime fighting community -- bees are the newest forensic detectives on the scene, solving murder cases.

It all starts with the growing trend of body farms -- there are several around the U.S., which serve as research facilities focused on human decomposition, helping law enforcement answer questions about when and how someone died. You can choose to donate your body to a body farm after you die, for science.

The body farm featured in this Solutionaries story is at George Mason University in northern Virginia.

“It’s an incredibly personal and awesome decision when somebody thinks that upon their death, they want to contribute their body to science. I mean, it’s the ultimate gift,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, the Forensic Science Program director at George Mason University in northern Virginia, where the newest body farm is located. “Once the body will come out here, we will study every aspect of human decomposition.”

So where do the bees come in?

Researchers are using bees to help find bodies.

“They’re going to be little scientists on our behalf, and I think that’s going to be remarkable. They’re going to be able to tell us where someone has been dumped, where someone is laying outside and decomposing,” said O’Toole, who retired from the FBI after nearly three decades.

O’Toole explains how it works: “If a human body is dumped outside, they begin to decompose, and honeybees, just by virtue of how they act in nature, they fly around and they land on flowers and other things. And then they take that back to their hives.”

So when someone goes missing, investigators can contact beekeepers, test their beehives for body decomposition and drastically narrow down the search area.

“If it tests positive, then we can estimate that the body is likely within two to five miles of those hives where the bees are,” O’Toole said. “We’re talking about narrowing down, could be 100 miles it could be 50 miles, but from an investigative perspective, that’s a big area to cover. To be able to determine is somebody out here? Has somebody been left out here, are their human remains decomposing out here?”

Watch the full Solutionaries story below:

This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at

About the Author:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.